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August 15, 2003

Former Miss America extols hearing device

From: Honolulu Star-Bulletin, HI - Aug 15, 2003

Associated Press

Heather Whitestone McCallum — the first deaf woman crowned Miss America — met yesterday with the inventor of an electronic implant that has allowed her to experience a world of new sounds.

A year ago, she received a cochlear implant, an electronic device that improves sound quality and speech recognition.

Since the surgery, McCallum — who won the national beauty pageant as Miss Alabama in 1995 — has heard her two sons' voices for the first time, not to mention the sound of violins, laughter and whispers.

And yesterday, she met Dr. Graeme Clark — the man who invented the implantable device.

"In the beginning, people told him that he was a fool," said McCallum, who is on Kauai attending an annual employee meeting of Cochlear, the company that makes the implant. "He never gave up. Because he never gave up, I benefit from his choice."

McCallum, who lives in Atlanta, got the implant on Aug. 7, 2002. It took six weeks of healing before the device could be activated and several more months before McCallum could start understanding the words she was hearing. It could take up to five years before she fully adapts to the device.

Since the surgery, McCallum, 30, is continually recognizing new sounds.

"I was brushing my teeth. And all of a sudden, I heard wonderful sounds. It was like music," she recalled of hearing the sound of running water for the first time.

Hearing the positive effects the surgery has had on patients is gratifying for Clark, 67, a professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

"I just feel so blessed each time I hear how much it helps those children and adults," said Clark, whose father was deaf. "The results have just been better than in my wildest dreams."

McCallum, who also wears a hearing aid in her right ear, agreed. "I'm not 100 percent perfect but I am grateful for the sound God gave me."

© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --